Kant, Fichte, Schelling: The Absolute (Part III)


For Schelling, then, we find that “Philosophy” is not to be teachable in the same way as mathematics. It does not follow a Hegelian “scientific” logic of identity which leads us, in turn, to the Absolute Idea. I would like to make clear what is underpinning this philosophical pursuit of knowledge by first inquiring into the way in which we learn mathematics. How does one come to learn mathematics in the first place?

Luckily, we don’t have much work to do here, as I believe Ludwig Wittgenstein is able to elucidate this for us perfectly, in Philosophical Investigations:

When we give an order, it can look as if the ultimate thing sought by the order has to remain unexpressed, as there is always a gulf between an order and its execution. Say I want someone to make a particular movement, say to raise his arm. To make it quite clear, I do the movement. This picture seems unambiguous until we ask: how does he know he is to make this movement? – How does he know at all what use he is to make of the signs I give him, whatever they are? – Perhaps I shall now try to supplement the order by means of further signs, by pointing from myself to him, making encouraging gestures, etc.. Here it looks as if the order were beginning to stammer. As if the signs were precariously trying to produce understanding in us. – But if we now understand them, by what token do we understand? (§433)

Yes, rule-following. I don’t read W. as a behaviorist, nor do I read W. as supporting the notion that there is no such thing as private language, etc.  and I am much sympathetic to Stanley Cavell‘s New Wittgenstein interpretation. My point is that it would be precisely a matter of repeating these Fichtean movements over and over again until one reaches an aporia. Late Schellingian understandings of “Philosophy” – i.e. much like Laruelle’s non-Philosophy -  moves past this by way of an absolute insistence against rule-following.

I continually find that the SR/OOO crowd is stuck, frustratingly, at this impasse such that “the viscous cycle cannot be broken”. Are we still too caught up in trying to find a mathematical formula for revolution? It appears that, for late Schelling and certainly for Novalis, we must not learn “Philosophy” in this way. Indeed, many of us do not, and it becomes instead a question of passion. A certain passion. How, then, ought one come to learn “Philosophy” beyond our Schellingian perspective of Naturphilosophie?

Matthew David Segall has recently uploaded a draft of a very, very brilliant essay (see here), in which he contrasts the Hegelian and Schellingian perspectives on Philosophy through a well-sourced argument pertaining to its relation to geometry. The dirty work of this comparison between Hegel and Schelling has, to my surprise, already been completed in a very straightforward way. (Thank you very much, Matthew, for writing the post I had wanted to write.)

To quote at some length:

“Knowledge in geometry,” says Schelling,

is of a totally different nature than that in philosophy…Everyone who has reflected on the field of mathematics knows that geometry is a science of a logical character, that between the presupposition itself and its consequences there lies nothing else in the middle save mere thought.

For Schelling, it is freedom that distinguishes the philosophical from the geometrical method. His discomfort with Hegel’s purely logical approach, however, was not a rejection of systematic coherence. On the contrary, Schelling praised Hegel for his attention to detail and steadfast adherence to the necessary movement of the dialectic as it worked its way to a genuinely completed system. Schelling eventually realized that such a purely rational philosophy, concerned as it was with the essence of things rather than their existence, was precisely only the negative part of the whole of philosophy. The other part, positive philosophy, does not begin already caught in the conceptual net of self-reflexive reason; it begins, instead, with the ecstatic experience of wonder, an experience that compels thought to acknowledge its dependence on what Schelling referred to as the unprethinkable (das Unvordenkliche):

that which just exists is precisely that which crushes everything that may derive from thought, before which thought becomes silent, and before which reason itself bows down.

Schelling’s opposition to Hegel’s system is not the result of its negative method, which if properly restricted to the sphere of logical possibility remains entirely valid. Schelling rejects only Hegel’s claim to have comprehended the fact of nature (=the existence of the actual world) solely through the purely logical and plainly demonstrable labor of reflective thought. Hegel’s ambitious philosophical project stumbles into error, according to Schelling, as a result of his reliance on two fundamental “fictions” to be considered in turn below: (1) the animism of the Concept, and (2) the transition, or release (Entlassens), of logic into nature.

I am in full agreement here, and the mention to the unprethinkable is indeed of much assistance here. Moreover, this significantly clarifies what Laruelle means when he compares non-Philosophy to non-Euclidian geometry, no?

In truth, it may well turn out that this sort of Entlassens may be the immanent outcome of what Wittgenstein called the “liberating word”. As I am prepared to insist, I believe that liberating word in the purview of Novalis’ “primal infinitism” is satyagraha. It is this word which allows us to move with Novalis beyond Novalis. The gulf between the “order” and “execution” is the exact impasse which I believe the SR/OOO crowd has reached, but is unable to pass. At this stage, is it not a matter of a particular kind of morality?

This Badiouian formalization only goes so far, and once again I’d like to re-iterate that Laruelle is much more radical in his immanence than Badiou if for nothing else than for (implicitly or otherwise) realizing the need to balance Badiou’s conception of “Philosophy” with the “Anti-philosophy” of, say, a figure like Wittgenstein whose thought he rejects ever-so proudly. Badiou still maintains this rule-following aspect, i.e. “It is Philosophy iff…” which is ultimately problematic for the non-Marxist. But, I’m getting way ahead of myself, and we’ll have to wait for Badiou’s book on immanence to know this for certain (lectures in French found here).

Of honourable mention is also a post from the Philo Shrink “Trauma & Event” blog (see here), in which Vincenzo Di Nicola seems to get it absolutely right by invoking Zupančič’s impressive critique of Badiou, while strangely also making reference to Wittgenstein’s ladder. He writes:

On the other hand, there is the temptation to make philosophy itself one of its conditions. This is the proposal of Slovenian theoretical psychoanalyst Alenka Zupančič in her essay on the “fifth condition.” To recapitulate, Zupančič argues the following: philosophy’s  conditions do not provide a foundation for philosophy, because if they did this would “suture” philosophy and lead to its “suspension,” or abandoning itself to one of its conditions. Nonetheless, she posits that:

One could thus say that there is also a fifth condition of philosophy: philosophy has to pull away from the immediate grip of its own conditions, while nevertheless remaining under the effect of these conditions.

She arrives at this by acknowledging that Badiou is the first philosopher to conceptualize the singular notion of the Two. Acknowledging that philosophy must “take place within the space of the infinite process of truth without itself becoming a process of truth” that is, “situated on the same level as generic procedures yet a certain distance from them,” Zupančič argues that philosophy must rely on the “immanent count-for-two.” Zupančič concludes that the count-for-two is also a fifth condition which “defines the very relationship of philosophy with its conditions and keeps it from merging with them, as well as from appearing as their independent sum.”

And, also strangely enough, Di Nicola realizes the utmost importance of thinking about violence and trauma.

Nonetheless, it is through the steadfast refusal to give orders, the refusal to provide conditions for Philosophy, the rejection of rule-following in Philosophy, that one can seemingly move past this dead-end of “eliminative idealism” into a more liberating and profoundly Nietzschean affirmation of non-violence. Zupančič, let us not forget, is predominately a Nietzschean scholar.

A mysterious tradition:

In Novalis: Philosophical Writings, we find a remark where Novalis freely moves past the limitations of Schellingian Naturphilosophie through this new conception of Philosophy:


The focus here that I would like to place is on second and third to last the lines: “The system of morality can lay a considerable claim to also being the only possible system of philosophy. Philosophy can only be represented in practice and cannot, like the activity of genius, be described at all”. And, in particular, let us locate our emphasis on the words morality and possible. Non-philosophy may be equated, thus, with a possibility of a New philosophy. In the eyes of the Old, however, it looks as if it were a system of morality.

This is awfully bizarre, is it not? The late Schellingian idea of Potenzen is at play here, but also appears to be at play in tandem with the Kantian Enlightenment mantra “Dare to Know!”. It did not seem possible that these two foreign entities could speak to each other so productively, but nonetheless if we situate ourselves in possibility of Philosophy itself, such that this non-violent encounter may occur between the Two in the One.

The moment that the state of non-violent, radically immanent “conative reproduction” (Erzeugung) is disturbed through a conditioned conception of “Philosophy”, then we may say tongue-in-cheek that Immanuel Kant is born. Perhaps all Kant had to do, at this stage, was to write a magnum opus entitled Critique of Philosophy in order to truly complete his project. Otherwise, if we move forward with conditioned Philosophy, then one is no longer “thinking the unthinkable”. One is no longer in the “mysterious tradition” of which Novalis speaks so elegantly, but instead has begun thinking thinkable thoughts – thoughts which undoubtedly become totalized, systematized, etc.

That is to say, they violently disturb the otherwise peaceful, immanent manifestation of this specific sort of “morality”.

We become, at that point, Kantians, Hegelians, Derrideans, Deleuzians, Lacanians, and so forth – although we have already determined that we cannot fully be X any longer. Is this the kind of silence of which Wittgenstein speaks at the end of the Tractatus? Can we read W. as a philosopher of radical immanence? Perhaps, but that it is not my focus at this moment. Let us turn to the Absolute.

The Absolute:

What, then, to make of the Absolute?

In Romanticism in National Context, Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich make this observation of early Schellingian Naturphilosophie, from the perspectives of Ignaz Paul Vitalis Troxler, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, and of course Novalis, page 112:


Following Laruelle, I propose to place this “absolute demand of the desire to know” in the place of the “vision-in-One”. This is none other than the Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, or a love of wisdom.

Here, I believe, we also find an unbelievable bringing-together of Slavoj Žižek and Simon Critchley.

Critchley’s account at the end of Faith of the Faithless that “violence is illegitimate but sometimes necessary” is no doubt unsatisfactory, and Žižek’s Hegelian reversal that “violence is legitimate but never necessary” definitely marks an improvement. But can we combine the letter of Žižek with the spirit of Critchley? We must self-reflectively look at our immanent state of being. When Žižek calls for more thinking as he routinely does, he is performatively affirming non-violence. He realizes that any theoretical motion from where he stands results in a kind of violence, and he seeks to avoid it. I would say Critchley, on the other hand, has his heart in the right place.

I do not wish to read Novalis as proposing a “primacy of morality” in, let us say, a Levinasian way, for that leads us to a certain “explicit” axiomization that may be problematic. Yet, it seems as though this “Fichtean movement” as I have described allows us to realize that no matter where we may begin our journey, if we keep following this “spirit of learning” long enough, we will arrive at the same exact place at the vision-in-One. Once at this position, there must be an absolute insistence upon the soul-force which takes root, and this defines satyagraha. In practice, it marks a plain and simple, active refusal to take part in violence of any kind, and an active non-violent resistance against it.

To wrap up my thoughts on the “meta-level” between Kierkegaard and Hegel, we must realize that it only appears like a “meta-level” from the vantage point of any conditioned Philosophy. In truth, it is another arena altogether, unrecognizable from the perspective of the Old. When these conditions are raised, and as we begin to self-reflectively think about our status as an immanent “count-for-Two”, the haze begins to clear and we find our liberatory word so to speak. This is, to me, the meaning of “determination-in-the-last-instance”. It is time to preform the speech act known as satyagraha.

The keys were provided from the various mistakes of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, and they were taken by Schelling and given to us. We were then nudged along the right path by Novalis. What, precisely, are we to do with them?

If we reflectively and non-philosophically look at ourselves in this state, if we really look at our radical immanence in this state, it is to be understood immediately that we are to absolutely and actively insist upon this morality of non-violent resistance: A truth as old as the hills”.

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology. London: Verso Books, 2012. Print.

Hallward, Peter. Think again Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. London: Continuum, 2004. Print.

Laruelle, François. Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-philosophy. London: Continuum, 2010. Print.

Porter, Roy, and Mikuláš Teich. Romanticism in National Context. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Print.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations;. Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1953. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and The Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso, 2012. Print.

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One thought on “Kant, Fichte, Schelling: The Absolute (Part III)”

  1. [note: FYI: I am not sure if its my iPad or something else, but many of you embeds do not work. Many take me to a 'not found'. ]

    One particular issue I come upon is this: still the ‘not object’ (to be brief) that seems to be end toward or upon all these coalescing arguments are addressing, is some sort of ‘one’ ness, as Laruelle’s ‘One in One’ or ‘vision in one’, as you have indicated of your position likewise. I am not so sure of this, because: what is this ‘One’? The presumption, I think I see, is a presumption of a common humanity, where each human being of course has the same basic operation going on ‘inside’ of them, and the object (ironically) is to uncover or otherwise let this common aspect be heard. I am not convinced this motion gets much further than the Object that is supposed to be being ‘worked with’ as a part of a ‘radically immanent’ Reality – that is, except so far as we have defined terms; but this then begs the question of the motion on the floor.

    We shall see.

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